reporting animal cruelty as political activism

This weekend I spoke at Animal Advocacy Camp about strategies for making animals more visible to and present in legal and political institutions. I argued that education campaigns and consumer action are only part of our battle, that we also need new laws and enhanced law enforcement that better reflect shifting social values about animals. I also argued that this is something for all animal advocates to incorporate into our activism.

One thing I encouraged activists to do is report animal cruelty. We have laws that are supposed to protect animals, but they are badly under-enforced. Mostly the laws are used to prosecute offenders who have been violent towards cats and dogs. Partially this is because the animals we relate to enjoy the benefit of our collective societal concern, partly it’s because institutionalized cruelty (even when outside of industry norms) is given more of a free pass than anti-social cruelty, and partly this is because our animal protection laws are only enforced in response to complaints from the public.

Most uses of animals take place on private property out of our sight, but not all. We may witness suffering endured by farmed animals in transport, ailing captive animals in zoos and aquaria, tormented animals in rodeos, even animals caught in leg-hold traps fighting for their lives. When we do, we should report it to law enforcement, even if we feel fairly sure nothing will come of it.

When we report animal cruelty, we can’t lose. We may get action, which is a victory. Or we don’t get action, and we are able to say with credibility that our system to protect animals is broken and to demand change.

By reporting, we also challenge norms that allow laws to discriminate between species and uses of animals. We need to create an expectation that every time an individual animal suffers in a way that violates existing laws — which is often — perpetrators will be held accountable, with the ultimate goal that entire industries will be forced to change their business models.

Instances of animal cruelty should be reported by the person who witnessed them as soon as possible after witnessing the incident. Take photos and record videos. Make a note of any identifying details, such as location, licence plate numbers, exact time and date, company/worker names, etc.

I’m thrilled to hear from my beautiful friend Anita Krajnc that this strategy will become an integral part of the Save Movement. Save Movement activists routinely witness injured animals, animals suffering from exposure to extreme weather, over-crowded animals, and so forth. To help with reporting, I have put together this overview of animal protection laws that may be engaged by witnessing animals in transport, and to whom to report violations.

All animals being transported are covered by the Health of Animals Act and Regulations. Among other things, these laws prohibit:

  • transporting ill or injured animals
  • transporting animals if it is probable that they will give birth during the journey
  • loading or unloading animals in a way that is likely to cause injury or undue suffering
  • crowding animals in a way that is likely to cause injury or undue suffering
  • transporting incompatible species
  • transporting animals unable to stand in a natural position
  • undue exposure to weather
  • inadequate ventilation

Violations of this should be reported to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

A pig with purple frostbitten ears is photographed by activists outside a Toronto slaughterhouse on January 2, 2014. It was -17 degrees Celsius that day; temperatures feel much colder in open-sided trucks at top highway speeds. Federal law prohibits undue exposure to weather and causing unnecessary suffering. Provincial law prohibits causing or permitting animals to be in distress. Photo: Anita Krajnc / Toronto Pig Save

A pig with purple frostbitten ears is photographed by activists outside a Toronto slaughterhouse on January 2, 2014. It was -17 degrees Celsius that day; temperatures feel much colder in open-sided trucks at top highway speeds. Federal law prohibits undue exposure to weather and causing unnecessary suffering. Provincial law prohibits causing or permitting animals to be in distress. Photo: Anita Krajnc / Toronto Pig Save

The Meat Inspection Act and Regulations also applies at federally regulated slaughterhouses. In B.C., Hallmark Poultry in Vancouver and Sunrise Poultry in Surrey are both federally regulated. In Ontario, Maple Lodge and Maple Leaf in Brampton, Fearmans Pork in Burlington, and St. Helen’s Meat Packers are federally regulated.

Among other things, the Meat Inspection Act and Regulations prohibit:

  • handling animals in a way that causes avoidable distress or pain
  • zapping animals with an electric prod in the anal, genital, or facial region

Violations of this should also be reported to the CFIA.

There are also provincially registered slaughterhouses which are governed by provincial welfare regulations. Animal cruelty at provincial slaughterhouses should be reported to the provincial ministry responsible for agriculture. In Ontario that’s OMAFRA and in B.C. it’s the Ministry of Agriculture. Please contact me if you’re unsure which agency has jurisdiction.

The Criminal Code prohibits causing unnecessary suffering to animals. This is a general law that applies to all animals at any time. Violations can be reported to the RCMP or the municipal police service that has jurisdiction in the area. The OSPCA and BC SPCA also have the authority to enforce the animal cruelty provisions of the Criminal Code; for this reason, the police will often defer to the welfare agencies, although they are not required to.

The OSPCA Act and the PCA Act are provincial statutes that prohibit causing or permitting animals to be in distress. Practices that are both reasonable and generally accepted are exempted. These are a general laws that apply to all animals. If you witness animals in distress, you can report it to the provincial welfare agency that enforces welfare laws in your province. When animals used in agriculture are involved, they may defer to the CFIA, although they are not required to.

Animal cruelty can be reported to ALL agencies that have the jurisdiction to enforce any potentially violated laws. This may mean that the same incident could be reported to the RCMP, the OSPCA, and the CFIA.

Bif Naked tweeted this article. I love it when people with a big platform use their influence to further animal rights, and especially animal rights activism.

Bif Naked tweeted this article. I love it when people with a big platform use their influence to further animal rights, and especially animal rights activism.

Reporting animal cruelty even when your complaints are being ignored is a political act. You are helping to create new social norms and expectations that laws to protect animals will be enforced. We must refuse to accept unconscionable animal suffering as normal, and refuse to accept a weak law enforcement system that fails the most vulnerable among us. Every individual animal matters.